Is All Truth God’s Truth?
Listen to “Is All Truth God’s Truth” by Fred Smith
I still remember my response in 1985 when our local Christian radio station turned down my request to play the Judy Collins version of “Amazing Grace” because, while it was clearly a Christian song, they had qualms about their listeners hearing it from Judy Collins. “What narrow minds! What does it matter who sings it as long as the message is Christian or not inconsistent with Christian values? Why should we be so legalistic about the packaging if the content is the same? After all, it was our own St. Augustine who said, ‘All Truth is God’s Truth’”
Now, many years later, I am wondering if I have become one of those narrow people I upbraided for conforming to the law instead of the spirit of the law. Do I need Truth packaged in Christian language or am I open to God’s ability to take language and redeem it – just as Martin Luther took common drinking songs and changed the message they carried?
I am asking this question after reading a note from my friend Vinh who had attended the Willow Creek Association’s recent Global Leadership Summit. Here is the conversation.
Vinh: After coming back from the Global Leadership Summit, we are inspired to raise the bar. We want people to be on fire to change the world. We want people to feel discontent.
Fred: I understand but I have concerns about some of the wisdom and inspirational messages that are so broad they could be spoken by anyone at any motivational conference. Maybe we could say they are universal principles but there is something nagging at me making me doubt that. It is true I don’t need the man building a house to explain load bearing walls in Christian language, and there are general laws that apply to any organization – Christian or secular – but is it really like Luther converting drinking songs to carry different content? Is it amazing grace or common grace?
For instance, while these may be inspirational and motivating, are they what we want Christian leaders to bring back from a conference?
”Only YOU can be YOU the way that YOU can be YOU!”
”If everyone believes in your vision it’s not big enough.”
”Fear has no place in your success equation!”
”Dream something so big and so amazing that it scares you and brings you out of your comfort zone.”
Vinh: Is it ever okay, then, for pastors to use these principles that are not grounded in Scripture? Or, do you think people would take them to be Scriptural because he quoted them? Is there a place for what we call secular to be used appropriately in a church? Put another way, is it okay for Amy Grant to sing secular songs? Could she sing them, but only outside the church?
Fred: I understand. We don’t go to leadership conferences for Bible teaching. But, I believe there is a difference between language that has been converted over against ideas that have been adopted and are motivational but not actually true. In other words, like Mr. Worldly Wiseman in “Pilgrim’s Progress”, have we in our fear of appearing narrow given people doses of good words but flawed wisdom? That is my concern.
Garrison Keillor, not known to be a fan of the church, wrote this and it rings true for me.
”When a minister stands in front of people, he is interrupting what the people have come to church for. He had better have a good reason for doing that. Otherwise, he shouldn’t stand up and talk. We don’t need the minister unless he has something that the Spirit has put in his heart to say. The important thing is to have something in your heart, look out at the people, and try to find a way to say what is in your heart right then and there. We don’t go to church to hear lectures on ethical behavior, we go to look at mysteries, and all the substitutes for communion with God are not worth anyone’s time. A minister who stands up and occupies twenty minutes of the worship hour only has to say one thing for the sermon to be worthwhile – just one clear image, one proposition that you can take home with you…All the minister has to do is tell the truth…The Gospel message is not easy, and ministers who try to make it more pleasant than it really is are doing a disservice. The Gospel is not really for nice people. It is not for people who believe that what is important is to eat the right foods, enjoy good entertainment, dress well, get regular exercise, and have better and better sex and get good at it. In fact, the Gospel tells us that those things are not of paramount importance.”
So, have I become what I once criticized? Oh, and Amy Grant can sing wherever she likes!